W, Fairchild Publications' monthly targeted to the fashion-forward, sped past both Elle and Harper's Bazaar to capture second place in the ad-page contest for the first quarter. This after having replaced Harper's Bazaar for a third-place finish for full-year 1998.
The quick jump to the second spot behind Vogue is a sweet victory for W-however fleeting it may prove to be. For six years, the decade-old magazine has toiled to move beyond the trade world (it's a spinoff of fashion-biz bible Women's Wear Daily) and into the consumer vernacular.
While that battle continues at the newsstand, W seems to have grabbed advertisers' attention. For the first three months of this year, W pulled in 495 ad pages, up 8.3% from last year's first-quarter results.
For the same period, Conde Nast Publications' Vogue, the heavyweight of the field, carried 699 pages, a 16.2% boost. But Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Elle fell to No. 3 with 471 pages (up 1.2%), while Hearst Magazines' Harper's Bazaar was fourth-and flat-with 369 pages.
'WE ARE A PLAYER'
"We jockeyed into second place, but I don't know if we can hold that," said Stephanie George, group publisher at Fairchild. "We don't get a lot of mass business, so I'm not comfortable saying we can retain it. Clearly, we are a player and a huge competitor."
W and Vogue leaped to the top of the heap with the help of multipage special sections. W, an oversized gossipy monthly, gained ad-page ground in the first quarter thanks to a millennium-focused "W Vision 2000" editorial section in March that drew multiple pages from the likes of Hugo Boss, Chanel and Prada. W's May and November issues this year will also carry Vision 2000 sections.
Vogue carried a series of "onserts"-advertorial sections polybagged with issues-for Gucci and Tommy Hilfiger in the February and March issues, respectively.
BEAUTY CATEGORY WEAKNESS
Publishers at Elle and Harper's Bazaar blame weakness in the beauty category for their soft ad sales.
Circulation is a separate contest. Of the four, Vogue was the only one to post substantive gains last year. Circulation at the Anna Wintour-edited title grew 7.6% to 1.21 million. Elle was up 2.8% to 974,816, while Harper's was flat at 732,572 and W was down 1.2% at 410,943.
Compared to five years ago, the category as a whole hasn't found many new readers. Since 1994, Elle and W have raised their rate bases slightly, while Vogue and Harper's Bazaar remain at 1994 levels today.
But new entries during that time, such as Marie Claire and In Style, are growing at double-digit rates with their emphasis on real fashion solutions. With mass titles such as Glamour and Cosmopolitan dressing up their fashion editorial, the traditional fashion books are out to prove they can hold their own.
"Many magazines are devoting a lot more energy on fashion pages that reach and address the consumer rather than just the latest trends," said Elana Hartman, director of the Fashion Association. "Designers like John Bartlett and Cynthia Rowley are taking a realistic approach to fashion and that's a good thing for magazines focusing on a lifestyle message."
While multipage sections can give a quick boost, publishers know they aren't going to sustain their titles long term. "We can't be a one-trick pony. The onserts aren't for everyone," said Richard Beckman, VP-publisher of Vogue. Upcoming onserts were sold for the April issue to Giorgio Armani, and in May to Cosmair.
But fashion and beauty advertisers want more than image burnishing from ad pages; they want to reach consumers ready to buy. Vogue plans several retail tie-in events later this year in Los Angeles, New York and Miami to drive ad pages. W regularly sponsors events in exclusive, upscale malls in and around major cities such as Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York.
In the end, the fashion-first titles all must depend on their cachet as upscale-reader magnets.
"All magazines to some extent focus on real women, but only a handful cover strict fashion trends that attract the attention of a certain moneyed, affluent, urban consumer. That's what Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle and W have going for